Faculty diversity matters
Does ethnicity impact student learning?
Ultimately, that was the question asked and answered by Thuy Thi Nguyen, interim general counsel/vice chancellor for the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office (CCCCO), during a discussion on faculty diversity, student learning and equal employment opportunities during the CCA spring conference.
“We have a legal and professional obligation to be responsive to the needs of a diverse student population. That includes having a richly diverse workforce,” Nguyen said.
She focused on a study which showed the educational benefits of a diverse faculty. Achievement gaps narrowed from 50 to 80 percent in a De Anza College study, “A Community College Instructor Like Me: Race and Ethnicity Interactions in the Classroom” (Fairlie, Hoffman, Oreopoulos, 2014), published in the American Economic Review. The key question in the five-year study, involving some 600,000 data points, was: Do minority students fare better when taught by people who look like them?
Results showed that gaps narrowed in categories such as dropped courses, persistence in classes, course pass rates, and course grades (achieving a B grade or higher). Positive minority-interaction effects for all outcomes were examined, as were own-race interactions and student-to-instructor and instructor-to-student reactions.
“Faculty diversity matters, especially with underrepresented students, as students are looking for role models,” said Nguyen. “Long term, students from underrepresented groups are more likely to take another class and even major in that subject area if they have been taught by faculty of color.”
CCA members asked: What is the role, then, of the Caucasian male? Professional development and advocacy, said Nguyen. “The study showed achievement gaps closed by up to 50 percent, but what about the other 50 percent?” she asked, adding that good teaching is good teaching. “Everyone needs to be part of the conversation and to be cognizant of student learning issues.” She encouraged instructors to get training about teaching and connecting with students from different cultures. “We know unconscious bias, for example, can deter learning.”
Caucasian males have been “critical in closing gaps, and in fact have been some of the strongest advocates for faculty diversity statewide. It’s about what our students need, and they need role models,” she added. “African American students, for example, don’t need all of their instructors to look like them; they need to interact with faculty from a wide range of cultures and ethnicities.”
Hiring and Prop. 209
From student learning, the conversation turned to hiring processes and practices. Nguyen noted the current “window of opportunity” since there has been a “significant increase in full-time faculty hiring that hasn’t been seen in nearly two decades” — an estimated 1,100 new full-time faculty hires just this year.
The CCCCO is researching and considering hiring practices. Research dating back to the fall of 2005 shows first-time full-time faculty hires from underrepresented minorities such as African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, Asians and Pacific Islanders have remained unchanged at 21 percent of the faculty. The student minority population is 50 percent. Nguyen says many are shocked that part-time/adjunct faculty are even less diverse (18 percent minority).
Explanations for these statistics were voiced by CCA members: Instructors can’t afford to work part-time for years until they get a full-time job; those with higher degrees find job options which give them higher salaries and better benefits. Nguyen noted another factor: “Generally, part-time faculty are selected by full-time ranks. Full-time faculty can play as influential a role as deans. That’s why educating hiring committees is such an integral part of increasing faculty diversity.”
Another explanation discussed by Nguyen involves Proposition 209, a state initiative passed in 1996 prohibiting hiring preferences based on gender and race. Many believe it effectively eliminated affirmative action. “Some say Prop. 209 does not allow us to do things like focus outreach,” she said. “That’s not true. It should be seen as two sides of the same coin, however.”
On one side of the coin, the law prohibits discrimination based on race, gender, disability, and age for instance. On the other side, hiring practices are required to be inclusive; regulations require plans to study data and eliminate practices that unintentionally weed out candidates of color. “Don’t discriminate, and be proactively inclusive,” Nguyen said.
Nguyen noted that CCA is the “trifecta” in employment opportunities. “Faculty are committed to the notion that education is the key to social mobility. You are moved personally and professionally by this. Community colleges are the sweet spot around issues of social justice, fairness, transforming lives and moving communities,” she said. “Being part of CCA is significant — unions have a history and a legacy of social justice and fairness. You look at where people are treated unfairly and fight the good fight.”
RESOURCES ON FACULTY DIVERSITY
For more on faculty diversity, including a link to the De Anza study “A Community College Instructor Like Me” and resources, videos, webinars and presentations from the CCCCO Legal Division, go to: cca4me.org/Ethnic-Racial-Minority-Issues.asp